Novak Djokovic showcases his exceptional skills in his debut at the United Cup, demonstrating top-notch form.

A “rusty” Novak Djokovic described his straight-sets victory over China’s Zhang Zhizhen as the perfect start to the summer season, and he anticipates being even better by the time the Australian Open begins.

Djokovic dominated Zhang, winning 6-3, 6-2 in just 72 minutes on Sunday night, giving Serbia a 1-0 lead in their United Cup tie against China in Perth. However, Qinwen Zheng, ranked 15th in the world, leveled the scores at 1-1 by defeating Olga Danilović, ranked 119th in the world, with a 6-4, 6-2 victory in the women’s singles. Djokovic and Danilović teamed up for the mixed doubles, ultimately securing a 2-1 victory with a 6-4, 1-6, 10-6 (match tiebreak) win just minutes before midnight.

If Serbia defeats the Czech Republic on Tuesday, they will secure a place in the quarter-finals.

Zhang put up a strong fight in the early stages of Sunday’s singles match at RAC Arena, using his strong serves to keep Djokovic at bay. However, Zhang’s performance faltered in the second set as Djokovic showcased his full force. Djokovic’s agile movement across the court and powerful groundstrokes wore Zhang down, enabling the 24-time grand slam winner to take a commanding 4-0 lead in the second set and ultimately secure victory.

“I was a little bit rusty at the beginning. I was out of rhythm for maybe the first five or six games,” Djokovic acknowledged. “But it’s normal when you haven’t played an official match for over a month. It takes a bit of time to get into the groove. Zhang served well, and he didn’t have much to lose. When I broke his serve at 3-2 in the first set, I could feel the momentum shift in my favor.”

Djokovic, who aims to clinch his 11th Australian Open title this summer, is content with his current fitness level. “I’m still in the process of preparing my body and getting into shape for Melbourne,” Djokovic explained. “The Australian Open is where I want to be at my absolute best. But this performance is as good as it gets for the opening week, and hopefully, I can build on it and head in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, Australia’s hopes of reaching the quarter-finals depend on a crucial match against defending champions the USA following their 2-1 victory over Great Britain. The British initially took the lead in the tie against the US when Katie Boulter surprised world No 5 Jessica Pegula with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 win.

World No 10 Taylor Fritz, set to face Alex de Minaur on Monday night, equalized for the Americans with a 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 victory over Cameron Norrie. Fritz and Pegula secured the mixed doubles win with a 1-6, 7-6, 10-7 (match tiebreak) triumph over Boulter and Neal Skupski.

Australia, who suffered a 2-1 defeat to Britain on the opening night of the tournament, must secure a 3-0 victory over the US on Monday night to guarantee a spot in the quarter-finals. A 2-1 victory would result in the qualifiers being decided by sets won in matches between the three teams. Failure to win would eliminate Australia from the competition.

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